Post Post-Christendom…

Posted by on Aug 3, 2017 in Blog | 5 comments

For the last few decades churches in the Western world have noted, usually with a sense of lament, that we live in a post-Christendom world – in other words, in a world where Christianity has lost its privileged status and is no longer assumed to be true, moral or the default religion of society. We can no longer presume that the major stories of the Bible are known by the majority, and biblical allusions are usually met with blank incomprehension (“what do you mean when you say she’s a Good Samaritan?”) As to the church setting the agenda for society, that is long past in a society which bows the knee to secularism and worships it more fervently than the average religious believer.

While we might tut tut at the losses of post-Christendom, it is important to remember that it was POST- Christendom. It was never PRE-Christendom. The many gifts bequeathed during the Christendom era did not disappear, and their presence continued to bless and nurture a society which was rapidly forgetting where they originally came from. There was no special concern for the rights of each individual until Christianity loudly affirmed the dignity of all as having been made in the image of God. Indeed, the very concept of a charitable concern for your neighbor, or for the poor and vulnerable, was never an entrenched value until Christianity started to shape the world.

In the early stages of post- Christendom we continued to be shaped by a conviction that we should work for the common good, that we ultimately needed to answer for how we lived our lives, and that our horizon should be wider than our self interest. It is not that people never cheated on their tax returns – but they used to feel a little guilty for doing so, aware that they were defrauding the poor and vulnerable. Nor did people never get drunk – but when they did they wondered if they should value their bodies a little more, as a gift given to them, and one not to be abused. If they tracked down some pornography, it left them a tad ashamed that they would view the bodies of others merely as objects of desire – rather than as belonging to real people… people who were almost always being exploited and abused, people who had been made in the image of God. In short, the convictions of Christendom continued to be felt in the early stages of a post-Christendom era.

But we are no longer in the early stages of post-Christendom. Indeed, while the term is terribly cumbersome, I would argue that we are entering a post post-Christendom era. The vestiges of Christendom are now almost gone. Love for others has been replaced with an almost obsessive love for self. Narcissism is the new normal, and me, myself and I are the horizons of our dramatically shrunken concern. Some now have marriage ceremonies where they are their own marriage partner – a ceremony for one, where they promise to put their own self first, forsaking all others…

Perhaps this all sounds a little despairing and critical. Actually, it leaves me quietly optimistic. We are made for more, and deep within we know it. St Augustine was right when he said “You, O Lord, have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” That rest will never be found at the lonely altar of self –  and so perhaps the God who “writes straight with crooked lines” will use the current shift in society to create an even deeper hunger for God. For those who are hungry seek… and those who seek find.

As always, nice chatting…

5 Comments

  1. Brian, thank you (again) for you stimulating posts. I don’t want to suggest that a detail is a problem for what you are saying overall, at least this detail I am sure isn’t. But when you say:
    “Indeed, the very concept of a charitable concern for your neighbor, or for the poor and vulnerable, was never an entrenched value until Christianity started to shape the world.”
    I think you overstate your case, unless you mean exclusively in Europe, for the laws in the Pentateuch clearly already have charitable concern for the neighbour as a significant centre of interest. And I think it could rightly be called an entrenched value of biblical religion BC as well as AD!

    • Thanks Tim. A fair comment and corrective, though it is interesting to note that John Dickson (amongst others) argues that the advent of Christianity saw this reach a previously unknown level.

  2. I am very optimistic about the post post-Christendom era. We now have generations of kids in this country who aren’t growing up with a cultural hangover Christianity which bears little resemblance to Christ. Instead, we have people who are asking genuine questions about faith and are happy to engage with the Bible. That means that we have to be faithful to that and also let the Holy Spirit do his work in convicting people of sin and bringing them to repentance, as opposed to being moral gatekeepers that seemed to be the church’s role in Christendom. We need not fear the change, but rather embrace it.

    • Well said. Yes, so easy to think it all depends upon us… and it really doesn’t.

  3. Thanks Brian. Within our small group we have been working through the latest from Olove Tree Media – Jesus the Game Changer. This is an excellent series looking at the way in which the Christian faith and the words of Jesus have shapped the Western world in particular. Woul dhighly recommend it.

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